The Idaho Education Association has itself to blame for its lack of friends in high places.
For years, the association has been viewed as a fund-raising arm of the state Democratic Party, borrowing heavily to defeat conservative, and sometimes moderate, Republicans in the nation’s most conservative state.
The teachers union got away with hardball politics as long as a Democratic governor ruled with enough partisans to sustain a veto and the public accepted the union’s bromide for solving school problems: money, money, money.
But now, the union risks becoming passe as Gov. Phil Batt, a Republican legislative super-majority and state schools superintendent Anne Fox begin terms loaded with reform ideas that have struck a chord.
The union must prove to an increasingly skeptical public that it is as interested in quality education as it is in pay raises and a liberal social agenda.
In his State of the State speech Monday, Batt acknowledged the terrific job done by many teachers while calling for accountability in education spending. Too many tax dollars are getting bogged down in administration rather than reaching the classrooms.
Like many Idahoans, Batt favors parental involvement in the schools, supports merit pay for teachers and takes a common-sense approach to salaries: “Teachers are not going to be paid comparable with some of the higher-paying states as long as Idaho wages in general rank near the bottom.”
Meanwhile, Fox has followed through on her promise to shake up the education establishment by firing bureaucratic fixtures (to the victor go the spoils), hiring conservative ideologue Bob Forrey as a research analyst and asking for a $30 million cut in a double-digit budget increase sought by the state Board of Education.
She also has connected with the public by calling for a return to firm discipline, basic instruction and minimum standards for children.
Fox swamped her IEA-backed opponent by campaigning against the union, by accepting popular alternatives such as private and home schools and by questioning the need for Goals 2000, a controversial outcome-based education program.
The union can treat its election losses as an aberration and do everything it can to impede Batt and Fox. Or it can spend some time figuring out how it lost touch with mainstream Idaho.
The Idaho Education Association’s future effectiveness hangs on which choice it makes.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board